Ecuador's Correa wins second term, vows 'socialist revolution'

Exit polls show that President Rafael Correa won by a wide margin over his nearest competitor in an eight-candidate field.

Fernando Vergara/AP
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa celebrates in Guayaquil after learning that the first unofficial exit polls Sunday showed him in the lead.

After Sunday’s resounding victory gave him a second term, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa sounded the tune of ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Onward with the “socialist revolution!” he told his supporters after exit polls showed he’d won by a wide margin over his nearest competitor in an eight-candidate field. Official results are expected today.

But how far Mr. Correa will - or will be able to - go to consolidate that power remains an open question.

Sunday’s race was mandated by a far-reaching constitution approved by voters in September – a move that followed in the footsteps of allies Mr. Chávez and President Evo Morales of Bolivia and certainly consolidated Correa’s power.

But Correa is not a Chávez clone. Yes, he has not shied away from criticizing the US and taking controversial steps such as defaulting on foreign debt and imposing steep tariffs on 630 imported goods.

But he has also courted international finance organizations when needed – and put enough distance between himself and Chávez, for example, that many analysts scratch their heads over just how close the two really are. (In a telling sign, he has not joined an alternative trade group that Chávez has touted as the answer to free trade pacts dominated by Washington.)

In two years in office, Correa remains the symbol of a president governing for the poor. Though many across Ecuador lament a lack of viable jobs and a rising cost of living, they don’t blame Correa for their woes. In fact, many believe he’s the only chance they’ve got.

“We will never defraud the Ecuadorian people,” he told his supporters on Sunday.

And love him or hate him, he does offer something that most Ecuadorians yearn for: political stability. He is the first elected president in three decades who has won office in a first round.

To avoid a second round, a candidate needs either more than 50 percent of the vote or 40 percent and a 10-point margin over the closest candidate.

While Ecuadorians have elected 10 presidents since 1997 - three were ousted by revolt, Correa could govern the nation for 10 years (the reformed constitution gives him the option to run again in 2013 for another, and final, four-year term).

Correa beat former president Lucio Gutierrez, as well as Alvaro Noboa, a banana tycoon who he faced off against in the second round of the 2006 race.

But many observers say the hard part lies ahead. The government depends heavily on oil revenue to fund its budget, and prices are down sharply from last year’s highs. Remittances are also down. It remains to be seen how patient the Ecuadorian people remain – and where they will place blame if economic conditions don’t improve soon.

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